Friday, October 26, 2007

Go Look It Up!

When I was a child with a question, and I had many, my Mom's favorite reply was, "Go look it up." Rather than believe Mom just didn't know, I became fascinated that there were books which held all the knowledge I was seeking. The Dictionary and Encyclopedia became my cohorts in learning the secrets of the world. And we kept Mom in the loop. Whatever answer I learned, I'd come back and share with long as it didn't interfere with fixing dinner when I was hungry.

"Go Look It Up" is a habit I never broke. Thank heaven. It seems to be the fuel for my curiosity, this knowledge that what I don't know, I can find out. Sure, some answers take longer to uncover than others, but I enjoy the hunt. I find it encouraging that scientists are now pushing the theory that a brain kept active, stays active longer...right into old age. Since I'm aiming for 100 birthdays, that's good to know. And with an innate sense of curiosity, I won't have to buy one of those computer "Brain Game" toys to keep me sharp.

I've found myself silently trying to instill that same sense of wonder in the kids I work with in the After School program. They of the "push-a-button-and-find-out generation who need 30 second answers in 60 second sound bites prefer I just tell them the answer. No, of course I don't. I occasionally point out the page containing the answer, but I make them dig. I realized what a foreign concept this was when one of them asked for help in math one day. It's been a while since it was mandatory for me to know the difference between an "acute" and an "obtuse" angle. I asked them to give me a definition. They couldn't. I asked what the teacher had taught them. Shrugged shoulders. Of course no one had a math book. So I told them to give me a minute while I grabbed the Big Yellow Dictionary. One of them pointed out that answers to "Math" questions would not be in a book of words.

I just loved the looks on their faces when I proved that theory wrong. [And my ego was relieved to know that my knowledge of angles wasn't as far off as I feared]. One of them asked how I knew to do such a thing and I shared the story about Mom. I reminded them that looking up the answers to everyday things was how you learn. And that if you're really smart, you'll never stop trying to learn. The next day we were talking about sharks and one kid asked how many types there were. Yes, I said it. But I phrased it as "Let's go look it up," because we did so together. Last week I heard two kids talking about something they weren't sure of. One of the kids finally said, "Let's go get the book", which is how they refer to the encyclopedias. They're now aware those volumes aren't merely for looks but actually hold answers...if you remember to pick the book that has the same letter as the thing you're looking up.

Last night I caught the tale end of a televised interview with an actor who used the word "minuscule". The Interviewer looked puzzled, then butted in and asked, "What's that?" I give the actor credit, he did not get upset or mock the man, but simply gave him a definition. The Interviewer nodded and said, "Hmm, I didn't know that." At that point I had four rapid fire thoughts:

You've got to be kidding! (Then again, are Movie Critics really journalists?)
You know, Text messaging is ruining Americans' ability to use big words.
Well, at least the guy had the nerve to ask.
Dude...go look it up!

The Interviewer was maybe 25. I figure if he starts looking stuff up now, his brain should be fine when he reaches old age. And he won't have to cough up money for a computer gizmo aimed at making Baby Boomers believe they can't think without owning one.


Bonnie said...

Many years ago I wrote a book and sent it to a publisher. They liked the story but told me I would have to rewrite it because the average person wouldn't understand it because I used too many polysyllabic words. I thought that was a poor reflection on the population, but received the same notice from a couple other publishers. The book was never published but that's another story. Have we really become a monosyllabic nation?

shug said...

My Lydia does nothing but ask questions:


Everything must be explained,
death, clouds, oxygen,
so when we at last descend,
you neatly clip the safety card
to the seat in front of you,
and talk us through what we do
should the plane, perhaps in the midst
of this very tight turn, ditch
in the sea. You practice the head
brace, check your shoes won’t tear
the safety slide. When the plane rocks,
you watch hopefully for the masks
to drop like blooms from the ceiling.
At a standstill, you scan the morning’s
light, sniff pine, prepare to change
topics. The rest of us, as ever, are insane:
mortal terror is our baggage; we swear,
we sweat, we are defined,
but all you have with you to declare,
is pure, unfettered mind.

hope said...

Tell Lydia that smart girls NEVER stop asking questions...especially when they have a clever father. :)